Fern Gagne was under the weather. It was an expression he’d used and heard others use many times in his 53 years, but it was never like this. This was hellaciously serious and he doubted any physician, especially in rural Franklin County, could treat him with any degree of success.
There were some in Sclearville who might take great satisfaction in claiming it was his own fault, while others would certainly sympathize with how he was feeling. Nevertheless, he doubted anyone in his hardscrabble village could, or would come to his aid any time soon. Morena Hilton certainly wouldn’t, nor would her shit-for-brains husband and the others in her clan of outlaws who’d made a career of terrorizing anyone in town daring to disagree with them.
Fern’s friction with the Hilton clan had begun shortly after his return home town following twenty five years in service to his country. He’d come back, tired of looking over his shoulder every time he heard a noise. Three tours in undeclared war zones would do that to almost anyone. His needs were simple and covered adequately by his military pension, coupled with income from the small farm inherited from his widowed father who’d died shortly before Fern was discharged. Unfortunately, his dream of solitude with abundant peace and quiet, had lasted less than a year thanks to the Hilton clan’s greed and penchant for engaging in illegal activities.
He twitched his shoulder, trying to quell an itch his situation prevented him from reaching, diminishing it enough to refocus on where his thoughts had been headed. The initial encounter with Morena and her crew happened during deer season his first year back. Fern knew hard times and lack of jobs led folks in Sclearville to jack deer in order to feed their families. He was okay with that, but when he caught the Hiltons coming out of his woodlot with four does in the back of an unregistered pickup, that had set him off. In hindsight he should have called the game warden, but rage, probably left over from his warzone twitchiness, had consumed him. By the time it had lifted, Fern’s rifle was empty and the Hilton’s truck in no shape to let them escape.
There was no way to apologize his way out of a situation like that, nor did he feel it necessary. Sure, he didn’t own the wildlife on his 45 acres, but that didn’t give others the right to kill off that many critters. He spent the next week holed up in the upstairs of his farmhouse, going from window to window, carrying his most powerful weapon. When no retaliation was forthcoming, Fern relaxed his guard. That turned out to be a mistake. While he couldn’t prove anything, there was no doubt in his mind that the Hiltons were behind the extremely loud explosion late one Sunday night that completely collapsed the dug well his livestock depended on. The county sheriff was sympathetic, but didn’t sound optimistic about charges sticking.
Fern let his anger simmer, then cool, concentrating on hiring someone trustworthy to dig out and reinforce the well. The cost irked him, but his critters depended on a safe water supply, so he sucked it up and waited until he came up with viable plans for revenge.
He coughed and didn’t like the woody sound. When the rasp subsided, his thoughts drifted back to his revenge as staying in the moment wasn’t at all pleasant. After all, who wanted to feel weak and helpless? Coming up with something that would be scary and intimidating without getting him arrested wasn’t as easy as he’d expected. It took imagining and discarding half a dozen schemes, letting each one rest in his mind for at least three days before he was satisfied number seven would work.
And it did, but not like Fern expected. Three creepy weeks of dragging sheets and towels through the woods to collect deer ticks wasn’t the least bit fun, but by the time he was ready to exact revenge, he had a pint jar ¾ full of very hungry predators. Finding an unscreened and unlocked window at the Hilton’s trashy compound was the easy part. It took him less than a minute to lean over the rotting sill and shake all the creatures loose.
Fern laid low for the next week, going out of his way to avoid anyone in town, even going as far as to buy what he needed at the big box store in Farmington. A month went by, then two, and every day Fern hoped for news that his revenge had been successful. Just before Halloween he learned that four members of the clan had been diagnosed and treated for Lyme Disease. His satisfaction was short lived. First, Athlena Hilton used her feminine wiles to convince a less than ethical physician to certify that her disease had rendered her disabled, resulting in a hefty monthly social security disability check. She celebrated by doing a half hour table dance at Quillies Tavern. Then Fern learned that townspeople were having a benefit supper and auction for the poor Hilton family. He had to exercise severe restraint not to sneak into the event and poison the coffee urn.
After an uneasy period with no further incidents, Fern spent the winter cutting wood, tending to his critters and debating his next move. When he saw the announcement that the town’s first selectman was not going to run again, he decided to act. Getting the required number of signatures was easy thanks to his family’s history with the town. When asked what he wanted to accomplish, Fern told prospective voters that he wanted to make the town safer for families and attract new people. When pressed as to what he meant, he would wink and whisper “Hiltons”.
Once elected, Fern set out to convince the other selectmen to support several ordinances he believed would accomplish his goals. Foremost was a junkyard/nuisance one that would hit the Hiltons where they lived. It would prohibit junk cars, unused farming equipment and non-working appliances from residents’ properties. Since the Hiltons had an abundance of all three littering their twenty acres, Fern figured compliance would cost them big time.
He hadn’t counted on their reaction, one that landed him under the weather. The temperature was still dropping below freezing most nights, making his current situation, naked and chained to a tree miles from any road, miserable. He might as well admit the Hiltons had won the war. Yelling only made his throat hurt and he’d started to lose the battle with the ants who had discovered the molasses covering him from head to toe. All he could hope for was that death would come before the local bears woke up and found him. Being under the weather really sucked.